Learn about news literacy this week Satire outrage | Reporter's ban lifted | Medical misinfo
Viral rumor rundown
NO: CNN did not describe the alleged shooter in the March 22 mass shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket as “factually Arabic, but morally white.” YES: This is a doctored image from a story in The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian “news” satire website.
Note: Though this altered screenshot was originally published as satire, it widely circulated out of context on social media, provoking significant misdirected outrage. (Warning: The links in this note contain blurred profanity.) You can see examples of its spread on Twitter here, and on Facebook here, here, here and here.
NO: Google did not “block” or censor images of the Suez Canal on Google Earth while the Ever Given, a container ship, was stuck in the canal. YES: The water in these satellite images varies in color — from dark blue to lighter aquamarine — because Google Earth pieces together images from a variety of sources taken on different dates. NO: Google Earth does not provide live, real-time satellite imagery and could not have censored a live shot of the vessel.
Note: Believers of the QAnon conspiracy belief system used the “blocked” images to push the absurd claim that the Ever Given, operated by the Evergreen company, was carrying abducted children in an international sex trafficking scheme involving Hillary Rodham Clinton. Conspiracy theorists linked Evergreen to Clinton by pointing out that Evergreen is her Secret Service code name and falsely suggesting that the boat’s call sign, or identifier, H3RC, intentionally contains her initials.
Motivated reasoning: Looking only for things in ways that are likely to confirm what you already want to believe or think is true and that will not typically result in information that conflicts with the belief you’re trying to prove.
Illusory pattern perception: The tendency to perceive meaningful cause-and-effect patterns and other connections between unrelated events. Also known as “patternicity,” illusory pattern perception is often used as evidence to support a belief.
NO: Georgia’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202, does not allow beverages other than water to be handed out to voters waiting in line at polling places. YES: The law prohibits giving “food and drink” — no exceptions are listed — “within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.”
Note: The author of this post later added the phrase “just joke” at the top, after the false loophole claim spread widely on social media.
NO: Some 3,964 people in Europe have not died from adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines. YES: The figures in this misleading headline are missing necessary context and have not been investigated or verified by scientists. YES: They are raw, unconfirmed numbers from EudraVigilance, a publicly accessible European Union database that compiles suspected side effects and other health problems that are “not necessarily related to or caused by” the vaccine. NO: The data do not show whether the adverse reactions were caused by the vaccine or occurred coincidentally. YES: Anti-vaccination activists routinely exaggerate the dangers of vaccines by misinterpreting and misusing data from EudraVigilance and from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a U.S. government database that allows anyone to self-report “possible side effects or health problems” experienced after a vaccine, even minor ones such as soreness at the injection site.
Note: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two to five people per million who receive a COVID-19 vaccine experience anaphylaxis, a rare severe allergic reaction that can be effectively treated. The CDC thus far has no proof directly linking vaccines to anyone’s death.
The Washington Post rescinded a policy banning one of its reporters — who has been open about her experience of sexual assault — from covering stories related to sexual misconduct. The March 29 decision came after reporter Felicia Sonmez detailed and criticized the ban in several tweets, and described how she had “pleaded with the editors to lift it, to no avail.” As Farhi reports, it is “unusual, if not unheard of, for a reporter to be banned from writing about a subject with which she is personally familiar or which involves the reporter’s background.”
Note: Sonmez was suspended from the Post in January 2020 after she tweeted about the sexual assault allegation against Kobe Bryant hours after his Jan. 26 death in a helicopter crash. Two days after she tweeted, the Post’s leadership reinstated Sonmez, concluding that she did not violate the newsroom’s social media policy.
Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).
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